(NewsUSA) - Finding the perfect college is kind of like investigative journalism -- you must do loads of research, ask all the right questions and visit the scene to gather first-hand knowledge and experience.
College visits should start percolating in the parental and student lobes toward the end of junior year and the start of senior year. Road trips may be necessary, and several at that. The most comprehensive virtual tours, G-chats and online scouring simply cannot replace the experience of seeing real dorm rooms or eating in actual dining halls.
As any tooth-and-nails journalist will tell you about a hot story, parents should have a strategy for visiting college campuses and getting the most out of each tour. Prepare to be schooled by Dr. Richard Bavaria, senior vice president of education outreach for tutoring authority Sylvan Learning.
* Cast a wide net. If your high-schooler hasn't done so already, help them compile a list of potential universities. Ask what aspects of college life -- sports, extracurriculars, campus/enrollment size, dorm life, religious affiliations, academic strengths and offerings -- are important to them and use those criteria.
Mark choices as dream, target and safety schools based on your child's academic performance and test scores. The initial list can be pared down to a realistic number of colleges to visit.
* Get SAT/ACT prep support. If some of the dream schools seem out of range due to unsatisfactory test scores, get your student SAT help from the local Sylvan Learning (www.sylvanlearning.com) tutoring experts. The level of competition to get into top schools is more intense than ever.
"The number of early admission applications has increased dramatically, with some universities seeing double-digit jumps. To begin the college process, most students applying to competitive colleges now take the SAT/ACT more than once," says Bavaria.
* Go while college is in session. Weekends and holidays can be dead zones for college life, which won't give your student a real glimpse of the campus. Call ahead to schedule tours, and make sure college is in session and students are attending classes so potential applicants see the whole experience.
* Ask smart questions. Encourage your kid to question everyone -- students, professors, advisors, librarians, coaches and more. Ask the same questions of different students and professors to compare answers. Parents, remember to hit key topics that students might forget, like financial aid and safety. You can usually trust them to inquire about food selection and social activities.